Games these days can feel like they lack a lot of heart. If you're one of those people who kind of feel a need for "heart" in a game, look no further than 2k Games' The Darkness, a game that will have you looking at hearts in a slightly different way.
The Darkness finds you as Jackie Estacado waking up in a car returning from a failed job for your Uncle Paulie. You're heading to your next job when things start to go wrong. People begin chasing you, shooting at you, and then all of a sudden things go from bad to worse when you crash. Don't worry; you're not dead… yet.
The Darkness launches you straight into a memorizing story where you're a hit man with a strange curse that's about to take hold. You are cursed with The Darkness, an entity that uses you as a puppet but whom you can control to do your bidding. You'll have strange evil black worm like creatures that will propel themselves from your body which you can control in a first person mode or just as an in-game weapon. As The Darkness, you'll live in the shadows using the dark areas of the world to keep your entity alive. You'll live in the real world and travel to Hell and back as The Darkness fights over control of your body. It's a first-person shooter & an involved adventure with even a little bit of tank control thrown in for good measure.
The Darkness has been made by Starbreeze Studios, the group responsible for The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay. Just like Riddick, The Darkness is gorgeous to look at. Crisp visuals with minor texture flaws you can easily forgive, stunning lighting, and lots of wow-factor effects to pop those eyes out of their sockets.
Sound too is brilliant as the voice-work doesn't ever lose anything. The main character, Jackie, is voiced by Mike Patton, the lead out of bands like Faith No More and The Fantomas. Patton does an excellent job of bringing the character that Marc Silvestri, Garth Ennis, and David Wohl brought to life in the original Top Cow comic of which The Darkness game is based off of. The other voices of characters you'll see – even minor characters that you only need to interact with once or twice – are top notch and leaving you wondering why don't more games sound this good. Effects are on the money too as they pop, crack, and splatter with vibrancy. While the music isn't bad, it waivers at points. Sometimes it suits what's going on while other times you'll be unsure what the music was trying to convey. Regardless, sound is one area where The Darkness truly excels.
Gameplay is another. I'm not a huge fan of console first-person shooters, but this game is a lot of fun to play regardless. If you've ever played a console first-person shooter, you'll pick up the control scheme pretty quickly and when you're given The Darkness, you'll have a few more controls for special weapons which are a treat to use. The single-player story is deep enough to give you around 2-3 days of playing if don't put the game down and the story is so developed that you probably won't want to.
Running around and killing people in-game is loads of fun with your special abilities giving you controls like devouring hearts, launching a black hole that will break the bodies of enemies, and raising minion Darklings from Hell to do your bidding. The Darklings will move cars, shoot people, blow themselves up, and generally make a complete fool of anything that they've killed.
The game has a lot of explicit language and hinted violence, but even with the amount of gore it alludes to, it's not sickening. It's got a dark & twisted edge to it that at points feels almost funny. You can't help but laugh a little at it.
Starbreeze also gave the gameplay areas where you'll slow down and not be involved in a firefight for ten minutes. The maps are pretty large and you'll want to explore every orifice of the map. You won't be given much of a choice, mind you, as there is no in-game map.
A lack of an in-game map is probably one of the failures of this game. There are a few mind you, and they include issues like non-player characters (NPC's) not having enough lines, lagging frame-rates from time to time, messy map structures, a weak multiplayer component, and not enough choice. In fact, the "choice" is probably the biggest flaw in the game. Occasionally you'll be given choices for the different routes you might want to take. While that sounds good, ultimately you have no choice in how you progress. A few times you'll be given the choice to kill a character or not. If you choose not to, nothing will happen and the game won't progress until you do kill the character. The allusion of choice against the idea that it doesn't make a difference is probably The Darkness' biggest flaw.
Those problems are but a minor blemish on the sheer fun that The Darkness brings. It's still a rip-roaring experience that can challenge you again and again with achievements that you'll just constantly want to beat as you live through the secrets & lies of Jackie Estacado and his exploits through to Hell and back.
Reviewed by Leigh D. Stark